Selected Citation

The 7 Percent Solution

Authors(s):Richard P. Feynman Publication:Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman Publication Date:1985 Publisher: W.W. Norton Citation: Link:

This chapter discusses Feynman's experiences at a time he is working on beta decay theory. At this point in his life, he feels somewhat behind the world's greatest experts in this particular field, and is somewhat self-conscious about this. There is, at the time, a conundrum in particle decay theory. The qualities of certain subatomic particles cannot be explained with the current theory. It is later discovered things taken for granted (accepted as fact) in fact had not been sufficiently proven in the past, and turn out to be false. From this experience, Feynman learns not to put to much trust in the general scientific consensus, and to check all the facts for himself, without accepting the "experts'" opinions. — Bookrags

I went to Professor Bacher and told him about our success, and he said, “Yes, you come out and say that the neutron-proton coupling is V instead of T. Everybody used to think it was T. Where is the fundamental experiment that says it’s T? Why don’t you look at the early experiments and find out what was wrong with them?”

I went out and found the original article on the experiment that said the neutron-proton coupling is T, and I was shocked by something. I remembered reading that article once before (back in the days when I read every article in the Physical Review—it was small enough). And I remembered when I saw this article again, looking at that curve and thinking, “That doesn’t prove anything!” You see, it depended on one or two points at the very edge of the range of the data, and there’s a principle that a point on the edge of the range of the data—the last point—isn’t very good, because if it was, they’d have another point further along. And I had realized that the whole idea that neutron-proton coupling is T was based on the last point, which wasn’t very good, and therefore it’s not proved. I remember noticing that!


And when I became interested in beta decay, directly, I read all these reports by the “beta-decay experts,” which said it’s T. I never looked at the original data; I only read those reports, like a dope. Had I been a good physicist , when I thought of the original idea back at the Rochester Conference I would have immediately looked up “how strong do we know it’s T?”—that would have been the sensible thing to do. I would have recognized right away that I had already noticed it wasn’t satisfactorily proved.

Since then, I never pay any attention to anything by “experts.” I calculate everything myself. When people said the quark theory was pretty good, I got two Ph.D.s, Finn Randal and Mark Kislinger, to go through the whole works with me, just so I could check that the thing was really giving results that fit fairly well, and that it was a significantly good theory. I’ll never make that mistake again, reading the experts’ opinions. Of course, you only live one life, and you make all your mistakes, and learn what not to do, and that’s the end of you.